Maybe it's because I haven't left the house in days. Maybe it's because of the wine. Maybe it's because I was lying next to my little girl, who does not yet know that there is a world outside of this sweet, dependable love right here. A world that is so incredible and so beautiful, yet so hurtful and so deeply flawed. The reality is, I can't protect her, just as my mother couldn't protect me.
For those of you who joined us for the first time yesterday morning, welcome! We enjoyed meeting each of you and truly hope you were able to connect, learn and receive support. If you have any questions about yesterday's topic, panelists, our resources, please let me know: firstname.lastname@example.org. The Café panelists covered a vast array of subjects, from adding value to our children to their methods of correction. They encouraged us to embrace today, reminding us that the challenges we face today will fade and new obstacles will arise with each year of growth (even when our children are grown!). Each season with our children is precious and brief. Eileen spoke of how she writes out a blessing for her children full of hopes for their future and affirmations of who they are today. She reads this to them on their birthday and frames them. What a beautiful idea!
Our hope for this year is to bring more depth to our education and support by serving you in love, on purpose and with focus. We are honored to create spaces where women of all philosophies, parenting theories, ages, and backgrounds can come together and support one another. Together we will "nurture the mother to grow the child".
"Your baby blues, so full of wonder
Your curly cues, your contagious smile
And as I watch, you start to grow up
All I can do is hold you tight
Knowing clouds will rage
And storms will race in but you will be safe in my arms
Rains will pour down, waves will crash all around
But you will be safe in my arms
Story books full of fairy tales
Of kings and queens and the bluest skies
My heart is torn just in knowing
You'll someday see the truth from lies
When the clouds will rage
And storms will race in but you will be safe in my arms
Rains will pour down, waves will crash all around
But you will be safe in my arms
Castles they might crumble
Dreams may not come true
But you are never all alone
Because I will always, always love you
When the clouds will rage
And storms will race in but you will be safe in my arms
Rains will pour down, waves will crash all around
But you will be safe in my arms, in my arms."
The Lyrics from "In My Arms", Written and Performed by: Plumb
This song by Plumb is one of those mommy songs that always “gets” me. I can be guaranteed a good cry by the time I get to the chorus, and by the end I’m pondering motherhood and all its many joys. It’s good sometimes to step back from the daily routines and truly ponder what it means to love and be loved.
When Gabriel was young, I used to hold him close in my arms. I had a sense of control that while there, he would be completely safe. The clouds could race in, the storms could rage. But he would be safe. It was that fairy tale time—I was queen and he was my little prince. But even in my arms I could not keep his heart beating, or feed him if his little tummy did not first send the hunger cue to his brain.
He is only 18 months now, but his independence has grown, and I have already felt those strange moments of him growing up. And though it feels forever away, if what every mother says is true, I will blink, and he will be 18. His dreams may not come true, his castle might crumble, and the storms might rage against him. Even then, I will figuratively hold him in my arms, and tell him how much I love him.
The hard truth remains that he will never be completely safe in my arms. I will do everything I can as a mother to protect my child physically, emotionally, and spiritually. But he will be exposed to hurt and prayerfully growth in all of those areas. I don’t want to “overprotect” him. I think most of us have seen the harm in that extreme—need I follow up Plumb’s song with creepy Mother Gothel’s “Mama Knows Best” from Tangled? Not the ideal either.
Thankfully, even though I cannot completely keep my child safe, I have found comfort in another truth. It’s the love that I feel when I am so in love with my son. It’s the fact that I am not the only one who feels this love for my son. There’s my husband, and my parents and his parents, and Gabriel’s myriad of aunts and uncles, and his three boy cousins, and friends, ranging from 0-90 years old. I find comfort in the fact that it’s not just me trying to help him through the storms of life. Our community is right there helping.
The love that has overwhelmed me the most is the love from God, who says He loves us with an everlasting love, one that is higher than the heavens, deeper than the oceans, and farther than the East is from the West. He has that same love for my son. Love deeper than mine. A love that can not only protect from the storms of life, but send them running the other direction with a simple command.
All these are the arms into which I find myself, my son in my arms.
We have all heard the saying, "It takes a village to raise a child." I completely agree with this saying. I know for a fact that gleaning the wisdom of other mothers who have "been there, done that" is priceless. I know that having mothers who are in the same place as I am is very comforting. Being able to surround ourselves with other mothers in order to aid each other in all of the different child rearing stages is invaluable. Unfortunately, for most of us in our modern mobile society, many of us don't have a village readily available. Our family has moved almost every year since my husband and I got married. That makes it really hard to build sustaining relationships. That also means that neither of us have any family closer than 6 hours away.
So how do I go about creating the village that is needed to help me as mother? Here are some of the avenues that I have taken to create such relationships:
1. Facebook - I know, I know. Facebook is a crazy social media frenzy that has nothing helpful on it. Actually, Facebook and Yahoo groups are a great place for you to locate and connect with other mothers. You can do this in the comfort of your own home, and distance is no barrier. I have been very blessed to be able to join some local and nationwide mom's groups that are always only a few clicks away. We connect on topics such as parenting philosophy, activities, geographical location, and spirituality. Even if you live in Timbuktu (real place in Africa), you can join in to the mommy world via the internet.
2. Local Groups - There are tons of local moms groups in almost all geographical locations. While I love my Facebook groups, having a group of people to connect with in real life is also very important. Some groups that I have been able to connect with are Le Leche League, Attachment Parenting International, and The Motherhood Collective. Each of the different groups has offered assistance, camaraderie, a shoulder to cry on, information, and friendships. 3. Church - I have been very blessed to be able to build a community of women/mothers at our local church who are always willing to support my family in many different fashions. Many churches offer groups such as MOPS. Even if the group is not focused on mothers, getting involved with other women will allow friendships to form. We all need friends, right!
4. Practitioners - Finding the right practitioners is another piece to this puzzle. It is invaluable for me to be able to take my kids or myself to see our care provider, and know that I can trust them with our health. I have very particular opinions about our healthcare (as do most moms I know), and I want to find people with whom I can work as a team with.
There are many other avenues for you to connect with other moms. Creating this village is very important because we shouldn't have to do this alone.
How far would I go to care for my son?
This is a thought I have often had during those trembling, earth shattering, lioness raging up in me, crazy love moments where I look at my toddler sleeping in my arms, and wonder if there is ANYTHING I would not do for him.
The story of Les Miserables is gaining quite a bit of popularity right now, and I will say that I have been a fan for years. It became my favorite piece of literature as soon as Jean Valjean walked away from the priest’s home with those candlesticks that forever shouted grace to his heart. As soon as I met Fantine, Cosette’s mother, I admired her. She was placed on my shelf of “people who are passionate above calculating”. You've got to give them credit. They do things we would probably never do. Fantine’s love for her daughter, and utter desperation in providing for her, extends further than any other person in literature. She descends to the darkest depths of misery, eventually selling her body in prostitution to scrape together whatever she can to send to Cosette, who lives miles away under the care of less than admirable people. I remember shaking my head at her in disbelief. Does anybody love another person like this?
When I recently revisited the story of Les Miserables in theaters, I didn’t just admire Fantine this time. I understood. As a mother now, I understood the desperation that would bring a mother to such sacrifice. I understood the kind of love it takes to live for years without your child, but still care for them with every breath you take. I understood how some people (Fantine in mind) summon up the notion to do crazy things for their children. This crazy love is a gift that Fantine pours out on Cosette, and it’s also one that gives back in greater fold, for as Fantine and Jean Valjean joyously sing at the end, “To love another person is to see the face of God!”
Still, in the day-to-day moments, I am filled with selfishness, and wonder whose ornery kid is destroying my living room. I am often guilty of desiring an orderly day more than the happiness and creativity of a messy toddler. I often love myself so much. That admirable love just seems so very far away because I mother under a roof of relative comfort, ease and safety.
The sad part of it is--there will be broken love in our homes, whether it’s given out of the desperation of a messed up world (as Fantine’s was) or whether it’s given from a heart that simply struggles to love another over self.
The wonderful part of it is? Even broken love gives back to us beyond measure—in the joys of our children and in the beauty of seeing God. Perhaps this is what makes love so crazy after all.
Permissive parenting, passive parenting, Attachment Parenting, Helicopter Parenting, free range parenting, main stream parenting, Intentional Parenting, Peaceful Parenting…yada, yada, yada!! Then there is the advice of your mother, your mother-in-law, your sister, your sister-in-law, your boss, your BFF, your husband's boss's wife's cousin. How in the world is one to choose which advice to follow?!
There are proclaimed experts in every area of parenting. There is one (or many) in each school of thought. There is a whole section on parenting in Barnes and Noble. Thousands of pages, blogs, magazines and articles that specialize in telling us how to rear our children fill all of our media sources. Parenting is big business!
So how does a newly pregnant woman go about narrowing what works and what doesn’t? The answer is to read it all. That’s right, read everything that you can get your hands on while you are pregnant. Take information from all sources possible. Listen to other mothers. Sit in on cafes and small groups at The Motherhood Collective. This is all very important information to gather, especially when your baby is easily contented with your avoidance of spicy foods and nourished from the umbilical cord.
As you start collecting this information, certain thoughts and ideas will begin resonating with you. Certain parenting practices will just seem “right” to you. You will get an idea of what to do when your little bundle of joy arrives. You will get a gut instinct that will continue to develop as you develop as a mother.
So now your little newborn is here, and you want to know why the things you just knew you wanted to do with your baby aren’t working. You have a whole arsenal of things to try. The next step in developing your parenting skills is to stop reading those books and to start reading your baby. Watch your baby’s cues and signals. Determine your child’s rhythms and work with them. All of those thoughts and words of wisdom that you have gained from your pre-baby preparation now need to be adapted to fit your baby’s personality. I am here to tell you that no baby will fit inside one parenting book, but there are many ideas on parenting that will amalgamate with your baby’s personality.
You will, of course, continue to have questions throughout this crazy and fast journey of mothering. Your baby will continue to develop and you will continue to adapt. Continuing to grow and adjust are all part of this wonderful journey. You are your baby's best mother. You are also never alone. Continue to seek advice of those other mothers and your trusted physicians; but more importantly, remember to trust your gut, listen to your instincts, and NEVER say never.
A column about how emptying yourself as a mother can become a fulfilling lifestyle. The adage that mothers continually give, give, give is nothing new. If you’re at the entrance of motherhood this universal is right at the forefront…at 2 am, when your nipples are bleeding from breastfeeding. Or at 8 pm when you have to leave everything early because it’s bedtime, of course.
I truly view Gabriel’s birth as my own birth as well—the birth of a mother. I strongly believe that life begins at conception, and so I know I had been a mother for nine months already, but birthing my son brought something out of me that wasn’t there before. I also view Gabriel’s first 12 weeks of life as my “chrysalis” stage, if you will. I felt cocooned into myself, separated from the world, and cut off from the person I used to be, as I attempted to transform into a mother and, in the process, die to my old self. (This sounds very dramatic, I know…but please bear with the illustration). I emerged, not a perfect butterfly mother, but a mother nonetheless. One willing to give of myself. One willing to find joy in giving, and thus embrace the gift of giving. One of my favorite quotes about mothers is from Tenneva Jordan: “A mother is a person who seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie.” To me, it’s such a funny and practical illustration of what I want to be—not fulfilled by eating the pie (and I do LOVE pie, and would have a hard time denying it), but fulfilled by watching my family enjoy eating the pie.
One of my biggest fears about motherhood is not what I’ll do wrong to my kids, but what I’ll do wrong with my heart. I fear the bitterness and resentment that I see overcome attitudes in moms—something that will harm me, my husband and my kids. I fear the temptations to say “You don’t know how hard it is to be a mom,” or “I never get a break as a mom,” or “why do you always need, need, need.” These feelings are embarrassing to even admit. Especially when I am rewarded with the love of my son, that smile when I treat him to something special, the unexpected (though snotty) kisses I get on my nose, and the way his arms reach out to me when I pick him up from childcare.
These things and more make it all worth it. They fill me with more joy than my petty, selfish complaints. They give me a fresher outlook than my inward focused one. They give me more energy than my self-pity.
The gift of giving becomes fulfilling when we ponder all things motherhood in our hearts. During this time of year I am reminded of the nativity story, and how Mary rode on a donkey at 9 months pregnant, was denied even a private bed and room for birthing, labored and birthed in a stable surrounded by the smell of manure, and wrapped her newborn in strips of cloth (go mama, right?). Their only visitors were shepherds (again with the manure). What does it say at the end of this humble story (which I doubt went according to her birth plan)? Mary pondered all these things in her heart. Not just when the heating blankets arrived, or the sitz bath, or lactation consultant (because she probably had none of these things). She pondered the treasure and gift she had been given.
I was surprised when I looked up the verb “to ponder.” These days, it means “to consider something deeply and thoroughly,” but I like the archaic meaning, “to estimate the worth of, to appraise.”
This holiday season, I am encouraged to ponder the worth of motherhood, to appraise how it can satisfy me when I sacrificially give. It is a priceless gift. This may not make the days less hard, but it will certainly make them more worthwhile.
With the changing leaves and falling temperatures, there's no doubt that fall is here! As mothers, we always try to stay a step ahead of the chaos and this month we're taking some time to share our thoughts on holiday celebrations, family traditions and maybe some new ideas about how to enjoy the upcoming season. So grab that cup of cinnamon-spiced coffee, prop your feet up on a pumpkin and enjoy what our writers have to say this month. ~TMC It’s October, which means November is just around the corner. November, the month of my favorite holiday: Thanksgiving. To me, the holiday evokes feelings of warmth, security, and comfort. Friends and family gathered around the table, laughing, chiding, enjoying the harvest’s bounty. Yes, it’s my favorite holiday. Whether we’re in North Carolina with my family, or at the Isle of Palms with my husband’s family – it is definitely my favorite day of the year.
I can’t help but ponder how this year will work out -
A little background: my father was diagnosed with bladder cancer nearly four years ago. After three and a half years of “taking it easy” (in the scheme of cancer treatment options), his doctors had a wake up call this year: old tumors, thought to have been thwarted by previous, localized treatments, were becoming more aggressive and reappearing with too much frequency. Then came the news that tumors were developing in my father’s ureter, and possibly, a kidney (upon being scoped, his ureter was too full of tumors to properly view the kidney). And so, this summer my father embarked upon chemotherapy. Watching him come through his treatments has been astounding. Per his request, my family continued the annual camping trip in the North Carolina mountains. Looking at my father, you’d never know he left the camping trip mid-week to journey to UNC for his chemotherapy, and return for the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games. In the past week, we've received the finalized dates for his cystotomy (bladder removal), with the possibility of a nephrectomoy and prostatectomy (kidney and prostate removal) – scheduled the week of Thanksgiving.
How fitting, I muse, that this surgery is scheduled the week in which we celebrate giving thanks. I am so thankful to this man, who raised me, and provided me with so many memories. I was most definitely a “Daddy’s girl,” and many childhood memories evolve around him. Simple memories – riding in his truck, oldies on the radio, singing, while doing such mundane chores as taking trash to the landfill – evoke feelings of love and comfort. For me, one of the hardest adjustments to adulthood, has been living away from my father. Communicating has been difficult, as he is not much of a phone talker (unlike my mother), and so phone conversations seem lackluster. In his presence though, words don’t have to be said – simply sitting alongside him is enough. He has been strong, steadfast, since his diagnosis. Determined to fight, I have been amazed by his strength and attitude. I sit and ponder, thinking. My father is amazing. I hope my daughter has that attitude towards her father.
The father-daughter bond is something special to behold. While for a long time (seemingly, forever) my daughter wouldn't let me out of her sight. Now at 17 months old, it’s wonderful to my husband and her together: her excitement at his arrival at home after work, the happiness she gets from a “pony ride” on her daddy, watching her take his hand and insisting he walk with her. These special moments are forming the bond that will last a lifetime. It is certainly a wonderful thing to watch and be thankful for.
In September, the Motherhood Collective will feature posts on balance - having it or not! It's certainly a state most of us struggle to find. September is, for some, the calm before the storm. Our kids are back in school, fall activities have begun and we have a few precious weeks before we really have to start thinking about the holidays. What better time to take a few minutes to reflect on how we spend our time, juggle our lives and what we can do to achieve our own perfect balance! ~TMC Okay, I’ll be honest. This was a crazy summer for our family. We ran around like, well, my son after his birthday cake—eyes roving and all. We have recently crashed and burned—and are taking this opportunity to re-evaluate.
Finding balance? It’s hard. Especially when you try to balance good things. I feel like I have weeks in which I spend the perfect amount of time at home, taking care of Gabriel, cleaning, cooking, and resting. Friday comes, and guilt overtakes me—I didn’t spend time with others, or serve anyone else in any way!
So I call up my friends—let’s book up the next week! That Friday comes, and I feel like I’ve just lugged Gabriel around to whatever plans I made, without thinking of his needs. Or my husband comes home from work, and I haven’t even started dinner.
Ugh! The irony is that I feel like I don’t have time to figure out balance. It takes too much work, too much strength, too much thought! Sometimes I think I’m still figuring out my identity as a mother, let alone how I’m going to be the same wife, friend, daughter, and sister that everyone else knows me as.
Of course, it’s very easy for me to speak the language of failure. I mean, my son is 12 months old. Shouldn’t this whole mothering thing be figured out by now? Ha, ha. Funny you should ask.
Come to find out, this is a universal struggle. I love reading proverbs of every kind—they have a way of putting the daily grind and the wisdom that solves it into one sentence. One of my favorites is from the Bible, Proverbs 14:1, “The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down (ESV).”
Does this describe how I feel about all things homemaker at times? Most definitely. I spend the morning building a fortress of peace, instruction, sweet kisses, vacuumed floors, and homemade bread (just for good measure). I then find myself in the afternoon—with a jackhammer between my hands, pointed at the foundation of all I built that morning, a crying baby in the carrier, a caffeine headache (because I just can’t get around to that cup of coffee), and a constant stream of “You’re doing this ALL wrong,” going through my head.
I have been taking some practical steps every week to help get me on the right track. Even if every plan deviates from what I expected, I have assurance that next week is a new week. I get to start all over again! (And honestly, isn’t every day a new day? I even feel like my child waking up from every nap is a new day. We are given endless grace in this!).
- Weekly Planning Retreat: I try to take time every Sunday to ponder the coming week. I prefer to do this while Andy watches Gabriel, and whether I’m home or at Starbucks, I make a list of three things.
- What goals do I have for this week? I write down the things I want to accomplish in housekeeping, errands, time with the Lord, Andy, Gabriel, and friends, and a fun project that I can look forward to (like that awesome new recipe, or my ever-beckoning sewing excursions J).
- What meals do I want to prepare this week? I decide on those, make my grocery list, and gather my coupons.
- I space all these things out as evenly as possible through the days. I’ll admit, I’m a “get it all done” kind of girl, so my Mondays and Tuesdays tend to be busier than my Thursdays and Fridays.
This may sound simple, and you may already be doing this (if so, keep it up!), but if you haven’t and you want to start—it’s not hard. Ask your husband or friend to help you establish this routine.
- Ask Yourself Good Questions: When you’re young, all the “old” people ask you challenging questions that help get you on track. When you’re a “big girl,” you’re expected to be able to do this for yourself now. But it’s easy to forget! Something I’m working on is asking myself a few simple questions every week (these are adapted from Lindsay Edmond’s blog “Passionate Homemaking” http://www.passionatehomemaking.com/2012/04/take-time-to-live-intentionally.html).
- If you follow a certain faith, ask yourself about your place spiritually. What areas can you improve in? What new character traits would you like to develop?
- If you’re married, ask yourself questions like these: How can I bless my husband? How can I love him like he has never been or ever will be loved? What is one aspect of his character that I could thank him for? What is one thing I could say to cheer him up?
- What practical steps can I take to love my children? What is one creative activity we could do together? Think of a one-on-one activity to do with each child. How can I bring life to them through my words?
- What practical step can I take to serve others, express thankfulness and/or encouragement to a friend?
- What practical steps can I take to simplify my life - what is one area I need to simplify to provide more peace in our home? What steps will I take to accomplish this? (This is a big one for me!)
- What is one step I can take towards completing long-term goals?
- Gratitude List: So this doesn’t exactly plan my week for me, but I do find that it keeps my attitude in line! I like to keep a pad of paper out, and periodically write down anything and everything that strikes me as beautiful. Beautiful things become blessings. Blessings produce thankfulness. Thankfulness literally transforms us. Of course, it’s great to remember the blessings of food, clothing, shelter, jobs, a husband, and children. I like to also remember really small things. Here’s an example:
- Kisses initiated by Gabriel
- Dairy-free chocolate chip cookies (since I’m allergic to dairy!)
- Sunlight streaming in on my plants—a reminder of the slow yet beautiful process of growth
- A new notebook
- Movie time with Andy
- Five senses to fully experience my son
- Breezes while walking
- Early morning bird songs
I, by no means, have perfected any of these practices. I certainly find them helpful, though! The Motherhood Mountain is a journey, and it’s not just about “making it” to the top. Our kids are following close behind. Let’s find small victories in jumping over streams, and working together to scale boulders—dirty diapers, sticky fingers, and all!
I want to talk about my five-month-old, and pee, and the Dunning-Kruger effect.
Nine years — almost my entire adult life — I have worked as an educator. My husband is a college professor too. Education, facts and research are a big part of our lives, and we were willing suckers for every baby book and doodad that claims to be somehow educational. Black and white brain stimulating mobile? Check. Baby sign language? Alphabet sheets to somehow ooze literacy into his wispy baby head? Check check. But even after just a few months with our little boy, I feel like, cliché or not, really it's I who have most to learn.
Most people are familiar with the paradoxical phenomenon called the Dunning-Kruger effect, even if they’ve never heard of it before. Basically two Cornell researchers did a bunch of observations indicating that in general, the more you actually know about a topic, the more you worry that you don’t know enough. And, not coincidentally, the less you truly know, the more likely you are to overestimate your own expertise! Now, if you're like me, you can instantly, snarkily think of one or two people in your life who this just perfectly applies to. But maybe it’s more useful if we each were first to try applying it to ourselves.
Raising my hand right here: I was a classic Dunning-Kruger parenting “expert” before my baby was born. Reading and note-taking are kind of my favorite thing ever, so I researched the very soul out of every single newborn issue I could imagine. Nine glorious months of page-turning and highlighting! I knew that parts of my pregnancy, birth, and parenting journey would be out of my hands, and parts I could do my best to control. Statistics and anecdotal evidence alike were ready and confident on the tip of my tongue. I spent time reading birth stories of every possible variation of experience. And I don't regret any of that reading, or thinking, or planning. It helped me do pregnancy my way, and made so much of the unknown feel safer to me. Yet within a few weeks of my actual son’s actual arrival? Even though in fact I suddenly had much more experience, I felt so much less of an expert.
Despite having great support, I found there were so many things that felt harder than I had anticipated. It isn't that nobody warned me; on the contrary I had several honest mama friends who shared their hearts and tried to prepare me for the changes newborn life would bring. But nothing really could. So many of the shortcuts, tips, and tricks that had been “lifesavers” for my mama friends didn’t work for me, or for my baby, at all. Even some of the issues I thought I would feel most passionate about, in my prenatal fits of highlighting, ended up falling away as I found myself with a new, smaller set of certainties. Here are just a few of the things I held on to in those early days:
- Things will get easier. Even though every age will have its challenges, newborn life is a tough adjustment for almost all new parents. The roller coaster cliché is true. But it will be okay.
- It’s only a little pee. Let’s just say my standards of what constitutes a true midnight laundry emergency have… evolved.
- Don’t mess with happy. Whether it’s the baby’s happiness, or my own, I have realized how much I tend to over-meddle. He's asleep with his head flopping to the side? That can't be comfortable... maybe if I just "fix" it... You see where this is going, right? It’s not always wise to try to perfect something that is already working out okay.
- Let him see you smiling. He looks to me so often in this phase of his life. Okay, at first he mostly stared at my hairline or maybe the ceiling fan, but pretty soon he realized it's the parents who are the first center of his universe. So I don’t want to always have my brow furrowed, to always be worrying about the next thing that could somehow be better. I want him to see me smile, because really? We have a lot to smile about.
And even any of these, I know, might not ring true for any one reader in particular. My point is: Not one of them would have seemed like an important idea to me back when I was an expert. And it's this change, from the researched knowledge to the experienced, that no one could really prepare me for.
I still read a lot, when I can fit it in. I still care about doing the best I can to make reasonable decisions on issues that come up. But as my little boy grows, I continue to realize how much is probably out there that I still really don’t know. There are times when I imagine all the questions ahead of us, all the things I don't even know I don't know yet, and within me anxiety starts to rise. But when it does, I try my best to remember good old Dunning-Kruger, take a deep breath, and remind myself that maybe, just maybe, the less I feel like I confidently know “for sure” as a parent, the more I’ve actually learned.
August is "Back to School" Month at The Motherhood Collective. Over the next few weeks, our writers will be sharing their teaching moments, the ways they encourage learning, their thoughts on education or the things THEY are learning as a parent. Even if your child isn't heading back to the classroom in a few weeks, we hope that our thoughts on learning will inspire you. ~TMC ---
Confession: I’m a college-educated 28 year old. I’ve worked in laboratories, universities (including a stint at Harvard), and very busy veterinarian offices. In April 2011 I took on a new position: stay at home mom, with a diverse farm which needs a lot of tending. My new “boss” is Olivia, a cute 16 month old girl with darling curls and a huge personality. Like the best of bosses, she expects a lot out of me and makes me want to do better than my very best. While it’s a dynamic job, where no day is ever the same as the one that came before it, it’s also an experience in humility and humanity.
With August being “Back to School” month here on The Motherhood Collective blog, I thought I would share the top five things I’ve been learning from the little person I spend the majority of my day with:
This is one of those lessons we’re taught our entire lives, but it really comes into play once there is a tiny human being depending on you for everything, day and night. It can be overwhelming, especially at first. The good news: They DO become more self sufficient. I remember rejoicing the first time Olivia played on her own while I made dinner. So just remember, between the constant calls of “Mama!” and sippy cups, and snacks, and sharing your dinner with your child … it will all be worth it in the end.
2. Slow down. Take your time.
Early on, even before Olivia was born, I was being taught that I needed to go a little slower. Prior to finding out I was pregnant, I remember several road trips where I was hauling my horse back to Virginia after a weekend of showing in North Carolina. I would be so tired, that I would have to pull over in a shaded parking lot, lock the doors, and take a nap before I could continue the drive home. Nature rewards us after a lengthy, sometimes exhausting, gestation and parturition, with the period of newborn amazement: that span of time after the arrival of our precious babes where every moment is a miracle. (Of course, I’m wondering if that phase lasts as long with subsequent children?) It’s a period of time where we move slowly as our bodies heal, and we look upon our babies in awe. As our children grow and develop, their needs change, but it’s always important to remember that every baby develops differently.
3. The world is marvelous.
In her room, Olivia has a piece of art that contains the following quote from Robert Louis Stevenson that says “The world is full of wonderful things, I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.” Since her birth, Olivia has always been calmer when outside. The clouds, the trees, the sun, and the wind – there is so much there for observation and exploration. From Olivia I have learned to appreciate the smallest of pleasures – the breeze on our face as we drive across a field, the feel of soft fabric on our skin, the joy of splashing in a puddle of water. To see her delight and engage in our environment is one of my greatest joys. Children encourage us to explore the world with them; but helping a child experience the world can be frustrating because it requires us to slow down and experience the world on their terms. A simple walk to the mailbox could end up taking an hour, with many detours to check out a tree, a bug, a leaf, etc. I have come to value this time of exploration, because it usually lends itself to a period of quiet, a time for some inflection, and amazement at watching my child discover the world that surrounds her.
4. Friends are essential (for mamas and babies).
I wouldn’t so much as say that Olivia has taught me this, but being a mother has definitely highlighted the importance of friends. Support groups, play groups, they are an important part of my life. Whether you attend The Motherhood Café and its playgroup, La Leche League, or just simply catch up with other mamas over coffee, getting their perspectives and help go a long way to stretching out a mama’s sanity. I am blessed by a core group of mama friends, and I’m pretty sure Olivia enjoys playing with their little ones as well. We both benefit from their friendship.
5. Don’t forget Daddy (or Mama).
As parents, we play critical roles in the lives of our children, and it’s far too easy to allow children to overrun the family. However, for the sake of the family unit, we must remember to make special time for ourselves, as husband and wife, not just mama and daddy. (Trust me on this one.) It can be as simple as a quiet chat in the evening after bedtime, a surprise lunch date, or even as luxurious as a weekend getaway to a fancy hotel. It doesn’t take much effort to keep the flame alive, and everyone in your family will benefit.
“Every mother can easily imagine losing a child. Motherhood is always half loss anyway. The three-year-old is lost at five, the five-year-old at nine. We consort with ghosts, even as we sit and eat with, scold and kiss, their current corporeal forms.” - Karen Joy Fowler Consorting with a ghost…yes, that is exactly how I feel sometimes. My son, Gabriel, is nine months into his first year of life, and I look back, wondering what happened to my newborn—the one who looked at me through baby blues, with oh-so-tiny grasping fingers, and a self-preservation instinct that could smell me across the room. Or the three month old, with smiles that stretched his face’s skin for the first time, and the delight of newly discovered giggles. Or the six month old, who learned to wrinkle his nose when tasting something other than mom’s milk, and raise up ever-strengthening arms to be held and carried. Yes, these are all Gabriel. But in many ways, they are ghosts, hidden inside his little nine month frame, and etched across my bosom and heart.
And all I ever hear is “treasure every moment, because it goes by so fast.” The breathlessness begins, and I start to panic. I don’t want to forget. I don’t want to regret.
So I hold him close to me. I stare at every line of his face while he nurses, looking up at me with that trust. When he wriggles down to the floor to crawl away from me, I realize, once again, that my heart has left my body to abide in another.
"Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body." - Elizabeth Stone
Maybe I can stop this cycle. Maybe I can hold him close forever.
Yet I wake up today, and delight in his newfound talent. He’s figured out how to pucker up and make the “fish face” – the one that I do to make him laugh all the time. He heads for the kitchen, fish lips in position, chubby hands slapping the floor, and baby bottom swinging. And I laugh at the joy of this discovery, and revel—only as a mother can!—at my beautiful and brilliant child.
I realize, isn’t there freedom in this? Isn’t that one of the glorious aspects of getting to raise my own person? To witness so closely this wonderful “cycle of life” that God has created.
So here I am again. I arrive at yet another calling in motherhood—to embrace the person that he is always becoming. To forget who he was yesterday? Never. To ponder every moment in my heart? Most definitely.